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Their Hearts Grew Three Sizes That Day

April 17, 2012

A sermon preached at White Plains Presbyterian Church

on the First Sunday after Easter / Emmaus Sunday, April 15, 2012

Acts 4:32-35         Psalm 133          Luke 24: 13-35 

We are called to be a scripture shaped community of scripture shaped people. Our lives and our life together are to be shaped by the story of God’s love for all that God has made. The image of the River of Life, running through scripture and across our new festal banners, informed our call to worship and our opening song this morning. The description of the early church in Acts gave shape to our confession and Lynn’s message with the children. The psalm of brotherly and sisterly love was proclaimed in our chorus. The story of two disciples, with hearts burning inside them – or as John Wesley was later to say, with hearts strangely warmed in the presence of the risen Christ at table – this story shapes always worship on the first Sunday after Easter in at White Plains Presbyterian Church. We will welcome for the first time, the leadership of two third grade children at the Lord’s Table. In honor of them, I would like to share a fourth reading this morning – though not from scripture. I want to read for you the final pages of the very important religious classic, a text many of you are sure to have heard, and perhaps even memorized, when you were children: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss.

Now this is drama! Do you remember the story? The mean and nasty Grinch hated Christmas. He hated the stockings, he hated the drums, hated the noise and he hated the feast. So he dressed up that silly dog as a reindeer, sported a red winter cap and stole all the children’s toys and stockings and trees in an effort to steal Christmas. He had sped out of town, after his close run in with little Cindy-Lou Who, and had raced to the top of Mt. Crummpit to relish in his feat, his daring; to hear the cries of the Whos down in Whoville as they discovered that Christmas had disappeared. Or had it? 

[Here I read the end of the story from this point to the roast beast].

In the television adaptation of the story, the memorable image we are shown is of an ex-ray screen over the chest of the Grinch, showing his shriveled heart begin to grow, and grow and grow – three sizes – until it is so large that it bursts the frame of the screen. My friends, this is what God wants from us: growing hearts.

When has your heart grown three sizes? For it is in those times that you can discover God’s presence with you.

The disciples felt their hearts growing when they heard Jesus talking on the road, opening the scriptures to them.

I have always loved these two passages, from Dr. Seuss and from Luke, and have brought them together because of the way they use our hearts to help us understand the way we grow. They present the gospel from the incarnation to the resurrection, from Christmas to Easter, and they both end with a feast. The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes when he discovered that though he could steal the presents, he could not steal Christmas, and the disciples hearts grew when they were able to understand that though Jesus body could be stolen, God’s presence was still with them.

In reflecting on the passage from Luke for today, I am impressed with the attention that is given to physical bodies. The disciples are found walking to Emmaus, a city famous for its hot springs and the recuperating power of its water. Is there a balm in Gilead? For the sin sick soul? To make the wounded whole? The disciples cannot answer that question yet, so they head for the next best thing, a long soak in the healing baths of Emmaus. Again, the physicality of the story: How many of you walk for exercise? So already, as we read, you should imagine your breathing, an elevated pulse, your aware of your heart… perhaps a blister is forming in your sandal. Imagine the summer heat in Palestine, the sun and sand. Your beginning to sweat. When you can feel this story in your own body, you know you are there with the disciples.

And Jesus is with the disciples too. His body walks with them unrecognized. The disciples tell him how their masters’ body has been stolen. Jesus asks why their hearts are so slow. Luke uses the image of blindness and sight, a metaphor rooted in the body, to speak about their ability to recognize the presence of God.  Jesus cares for their physical hunger by feeding them. And only then do they recognize him. And he vanishes. But now they know, that though his body is gone, the have not lost God’s presence. And his absent body returns them to their own bodies: their hearts burned within them. Their hearts grew three sizes.

When has your heart grown? When have you discovered God’s presence with you?

The Reformed faith of Presbyterians has always been heart centered, despite our reputation for decency, order, and long meetings. The basis of John Calvin’s piety was his prayer, “My heart, O God, I give to thee, eagerly and sincerely.” Calvin understood that offering our hearts to God meant offering to live according to God’s heart. Augustine, the 4th century bishop who deeply influenced Calvin, said that “our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in thee.” The great mystic and interpreter of scripture, Bernard of Clairvaux, wrote that “Our [heart] must grow and expand so as to be capable of God. And its largeness is its love.”[1] And Julian of Norwich says that of all the thoughts the heart can think, adhering to the goodness that God pours into our hearts is what pleases God the most. When we reach out to make room in our hearts for other persons, our hearts are growing. When we expand the scope of our love to include our neighbor, our hearts are growing. When our love allows us to look upon ourselves with care and compassion, allowing ourselves to be honest about ourselves and to care for ourselves, our hearts are growing. Jesus, of course, pushes us to our limits by asking us to love our enemies, which means we must seek to have hearts as large as God’s. 

When has your heart grown? When have you discovered God’s presence with you?

Now why all this attention to bodies in the resurrection stories? It is, I believe, because our bodies can reveal God to us, if we pay attention to them, listen to them, and love them. We know how hunger reveals to us the need for food, how pain reveals to us danger or harm. We hear it in worship whenever an infant is hungry or needs attention: they let us know by screaming out. How many of you know what fear feels like, or compassion? Not in your head, but in your body? In Greek, the word for compassion is literally “a movement in the bowels”, though it might be better translated gut-wrenching, that mixture of knowing something is wrong and the desire to do something about it. Our bodies can also tell us when we are angry, even when we don’t wish to know so. Actually, in Greek, compassion and anger are very closely related, because our compassion for those who are systematically kept poor should help us experience anger at injustice. Bring it all together (hunger, compassion and anger) and you have Jesus words about blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Our work for justice should be as close to us as our need for food and drink.

A few weeks ago, Will Summers shared with us his experience at the Fast for Fair Food. Will joined farmworkers, students and allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in going without food for a week in order to reconnect our physical and spiritual hungers. If you have not had an opportunity to speak with Will about this experience I encourage you to do so today after worship and during lunch. Will came away with a powerful reflection on basic human dignity. His heart had grown.

When has your heart grown? When have you discovered God’s presence with you?

This would be an appropriate conversation to have as we sit down for lunch together after the Lord’s Supper today. Share with your neighbors an experience of spiritual growth and what it has enabled you to do. Share it around the table as you break bread, and take soup. Who knows, you may, again, through each other, catch a glimpse of the risen, life giving Christ in our midst.

For, to listen to the burning of our hearts is to pay renewed attention to how God is asking us to grow. To offer our hearts to God is to live, to exercise choices and use our talents, with reference to the desires of God’s heart. To have in us the heart of God is to have our eyes opened to the presence of the risen Christ in our midst.

May your hearts grow as you continue to discover God’s presence with you.

The sermon ended here. Later in the day almost fifty people of faith and conscience gathered in front of Stop & Shop on Westchester Avenue to call on the grocery chain and its parent company, Ahold, to join with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in improving wages, working conditions and ending modern-day slavery in the fields. We had impressive interfaith support from local clergy and congregations, and county wide support from Presbyterians. White Plains Presbyterian was out in force, providing nine of the fifty participants, and one of our Prayer Ministers led the community prayer before entering the store to deliver a letter to the manager. As pastor of this congregation, in the presence of so many good people and working people, advocating for justice, I felt my heart grow!

Read the article [http://whiteplains.patch.com/articles/florida-farm-workers-and-supporter-protest-outside-stop-shop] and learn more at [http://www.ciw-online.org].

 


 

[1] As St. Paul says, “Widen yourselves in love (2 Cor 6:13).

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